Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Another Year Shot to Hell

As 2015 draws to a close, it's hard to find anything redemptive about it.

The Iraqi army seems to be largely in control of the rubble that used to be Ramadi, indicating that the carpet bombing approach endorsed by almost all the Republican candidates for president is not too different from the approach being used by the Obama administration.  A couple of Sunni militias seem to have been involved in the "reconquest," but it remains to be seen whether the Abadi government will turn out to be any less sectarian than the Maliki government.

Tamir Rice's murderer has been cleared by a grand jury under the transparently biased guidance of County Prosecutor T. J. McGinty.  Anybody who's watched the intro to "Law and Order" knows that police and prosecutors are as close as two turds in a toilet.  Cases of potential police abuse should always be handled by outside prosecutors — preferably from outside the state.

The Canadians have started admitting the 25,000 Syrian refugees they plan to accept in the coming year.  Uh oh!  Looks like we'll need a border wall to the north as well as to the south!  (Tr*mp, of course, will make the Canadians pay for it.)

I was looking at my very first post to this blog, from January 2008, and found the following:

     Hillary Clinton says, "Just trust me. My experience as First
     Lady means I understand the change you want even better
     than you do, and I promise to deliver.  It'll be just like when
     Bill was President. You'll be back to drinking lattes and
     making paper fortunes in no time flat!"

     Uh huh. She'll just "change" things back to the way they were
     before Dubya and all your dreams will come true. But what if
     you're like me, and the Clinton Administration made you
     nostalgic for the liberalism of the Nixon  Administration?
     And by the way, just what's the chance of Hillary voluntarily
     giving up those new authoritarian powers Bush/Cheney
     usurped for the presidency? (I'd put it just shy of 0.03%.)

I didn't have much hope for "hope and change" either, and I was right.  Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Why is he still running?

Many of the few who watched last night's Democratic debate doubtless are asking the same question:  why is Martin O'Malley still running?

Answer: In the event that Hillary happens to explode in an unanticipated blast of Clintonian craziness, the party establishment will have an alternative.  O'Malley is handsome, intelligent, articulate, and not Bernie.

Speaking of business interests, Sanders said "they ain't gonna like me, and Wall Street is gonna like me even less."  O'Malley, on the other hand, would get along just fine.

Friday, December 18, 2015


Let's face it: adding a quarter per cent to the Federal Funds Rate is no big deal.  Yes, the greedy bankers, as expected, are raising their prime rates — making some loans more expensive — while letting interest rates on CDs and savings accounts stay the same.  They're increasing prime because they can.  They're leaving the interest they pay low for the same reason: because they can.

Really, though, the change is minimal.  Granted, the increase really wasn't justified by higher inflation, because inflation remains very low.  Some think the Fed was anticipating higher inflation based on possibly higher oil prices in the future, but as long as everywhere in the world except the USofA is stuck in slowdown, oil prices will stay low.  So why the increase in the rate?

Mostly, I believe, as an indicator that the recovery really is happening, and because its impact is beginning to be seen in wages as well as asset values.  If the Fed succeeds in instilling greater confidence, it may be that corporations will begin investing their very substantial profits in expanded production, rather than in mergers, acquisitions, and stock buybacks.

If rate increases come as slowly as Dr. Yellen has suggested, no economic slowdown need be anticipated, and the Fed will begin to regain some of the leverage it needs to respond to future crises.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Another Republican Debate (yawn)

I caught last night's Republican debate.  I meant to skip it, but somehow I didn't.

Jeb Bush overcame his intrinsic good manners and respect for rules by ignoring the moderators and continuing a spirited attack on Tr*mp that went well beyond his "time limit."  I guess he meant to demonstrate he's really not a wussy.  Did it work?  Well, it didn't hurt.  Many of the candidates participated in ganging up on Tr*mp, and to me the Donald appeared slightly shaken.

Rubio and Cruz apparently believe the contest is between the two of them, and may have done each other some damage, but probably not enough to matter even in the short run.  Both Rubio and Cruz supporters will believe their man "won."

Chris Christie tried an amusing new tactic: disparaging Congress, as represented by Rubio and Cruz.  Given the public's low regard for Congress, the new tactic may have been effective.  We'll see.

Rand Paul was sounding a lot more libertarian than in previous debates, which was refreshing.  Ben Carson did damage control, Carly Fiorina suggested privatizing national security, and John Kasich made no particular impression at all.

And, oh yeah, nobody likes Obama.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Beau Bergdahl

Whatever the "facts" are concerning Beau Bergdahl's Afghanistan walkabout, it is clear that his case has been politicized to a point where an impartial court martial is impossible.  Since nobody is charging that he cooperated in any way with the Taliban, a reasonable person can conclude that five years of imprisonment — including three years of uncontrollable diarrhea — was ample punishment.

Thursday, December 10, 2015


Yes, he's an obscenity.  Even more obscene is the fact that large numbers of Americans like what he has to say — including many who do not support his candidacy, and a good number who never would admit they agree with him.

There is a strong proto-fascist element in the USofA.  Few go so far as to join the neo-Nazi groups (united behind Tr*mp, of course), but xenophobia, racism, and a widespread willingness to sacrifice individual liberties for a feeling of "security" are endemic.

The demagogues, of course, dare not deliver such feelings of security for fear of losing their hold over their trembling followers.  The sheep must continue to believe that the wolf truly is puffing at the door.

What does it take to turn "soft" racism (as recently evidenced by Justice Antonin Scalia) into virulent antagonism?  Whatever it is, Islamist State and Fox News both seem to have found the recipe.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Meanwhile, elsewhere...

"The circus is gone, but the clowns stayed."
— Leonid Zakharov, resident of Crimea

A while back, you may recall, Tatar activists blew up the main power lines through which the Crimean Peninsula got most of its electric power from Ukraine.  Ukrainian president Petro Poroschenko has shown scant inclination to remove the Tatar activists from areas around the downed lines so that they might be repaired.

Crimea is a part of Russia once again, but apart from the power crisis, not much has changed.  The same incompetent local officials are still in power, just as corrupt as ever.  Not much has changed in the Ukraine either.  The rebel provinces are still in rebellion, and corruption remains rampant, albeit many of the bribes now are collected by putatively pro-Western officials rather than Russian puppets.  Obama sent Biden to Kiev to complain, indicating that Obama has more important things on his mind.

*  *  *  *  *

Venezuelan elections have gone badly for the Chavistas, and the presidency of the comically incompetent Nicolás Maduro is threatened.  If he survives, and his United Socialist Party maintains significant influence in Venezuelan politics, it will be because the fractious members of the winning Democratic Unity coalition will be fighting too hard over who gets to steal what from the public coffers.

The two most prominent leaders of Democratic Unity, Leopoldo López and Henrique Capriles, already were at each other's throats before all the votes were counted.  (López, jailed by the Chavistas for fomenting anti-government riots, was represented in the media by his wife.)  A major obstacle to reconciliation is the low price of oil, significantly limiting government funds available to be looted.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

San Bernadino

The San Bernadino massacre was an interesting combination of an ideologically motivated terrorist attack and a personally motivated case of workplace violence, and it suggests something nobody's really said out loud: they don't "hate our freedom;" they hate us.

The Farooks had a substantial arsenal in their town house, considerably more than they needed to shoot up a social services agency, and it may be that Nicholas Thalasinos, one of the victims, saved many lives by pissing off Syed Rizwan Farook in an argument a couple of days before the incident.  Thalasinos, a Jew (in his official "victim" photo, he's wearing a tallis) with an unlikely Greek name is said to have been extremely pro-Israel and, it seems safe to say, not favorably inclined towards Muslims.  We don't know the specifics of the argument yet, but we can easily imagine its tenor.  Were it not for Thalasinos, the Farooks might have selected a target where many more fatalities would have been possible.

We don't know if Thalasinos was a Republican, but we can be fairly certain he sounded like one.  You don't have to be a Republican to be virulently anti-Muslim these days, and Republican fear mongering cannot be without its effects.  American attitudes towards fellow Americans who are Muslims can only stoke more hatred, and generate more radicalization and criminal activity.  They have good reason to hate us — that is, to hate us back.

I don't believe stricter gun control laws, the Democratic response to domestic terrorism, would make much difference.  California has gun control laws that are as restrictive as any in the country, and it didn't help.  The kind of European-style gun control that might make a difference is politically impossible in the USofA.

As for the Republican approach to terrorism, it's just as hollow as that of the Democrats.  Sending troops to Iraq and Syria to "root out" the Islamist State can only make matters worse, especially since our nominal "ally," Haider al-Abadi, says he would consider it an act of war.  The idea is to have fewer enemies in the Middle East, not more.

Personally, I have no idea what policies the USofA should pursue at this time.  Obama's approach, just trying not to make matters worse, seems to be as good as we can manage at the moment.  Republican efforts to make matters worse as a means to win the 2016 election, sad to say, will not subside no matter what intellectual or moral appeals are made to them.

Given enough time, Islamist terrorism will be replaced by some other seemingly existential threat, but I'll probably be dead by then.  I hope future generations of Americans can do better than mine has.